2. Wildfires char region

Colton Davies

Castanet Penticton is counting down the five biggest stories of 2017. They are being determined by a combination of web-traffic, public interest and overall impact on the South Okanagan.

2) Wildfires keep the South Okanagan on edge all summer

While the region managed to avoid the devastation levelled on the Cariboo, the South Okanagan was not spared from the wildfires that ravaged B.C. this summer.

Okanagan Lake was still at record levels and Valley’s grass green when Penticton’s first wildfire broke out in June, forcing the emergency evacuation of the God’s Mountain resort on the east side of Skaha Lake.

Fire crews stomped it out quickly, something they would do countless times more by the end of September.

On July 4, a wildfire broke out in the middle of Kaleden.

It spread rapidly in grass killed by a record drought that would last another two months.

Kaleden Fire Chief Denis Gaudry says 911 “just lit up” with reports of the wildfire while it was still very small, allowing his firefighters to get to the blaze early.

Despite the rapid response and air support minutes away at the Penticton airport, one home and several outbuildings were destroyed by the 5.5 hectares fire before crews extinguished it.

The Penticton Fire Department had a pair of massive saves in West Bench, protecting homes and the Penticton Indian Band offices.

On July 20, a fire broke out in a green space of a neighbourhood on Westwood Drive.

Municipal firefighters immediately requested air support and conducted a tactical evacuation of about 40 homes.

"The fire backed right up into properties onto porches, as close as you can get without losing structures," Fire Chief Larry Watkinson said after the department got a handle on the fire.

They would return to West Bench several more times for smaller grass fires, and a much larger one on the Penticton Indian Band reserve.

Westhill Aggregates loader operator Grant George was praised for his actions during the reserve fire, after he drove his machine into the flames.

"It was scary, then I got bombed by the helicopter. I think he knew that I needed it because I was right at the fire,” he told Castanet.

Around the same time, a wildfire was forcing people out of their homes in Princeton. That blaze burned 3,300 hectares and forced evacuations for a large area north of town.

People were also forced out of their homes north of Summerland by the Finlay Creek fire. The rural makeup of the area meant evacuees had livestock to manage, with the help of CDART.

The largest fire for the region also resulted in the softest response.

The Diamond Creek wildfire torched over 50,000 hectares of wilderness across the B.C. and Washington State border between Manning and Cathedral Provincial Parks.

While Cathedral was evacuated, the rough and uninhabited terrain where the fire was burning meant it was little threat to infrastructure.

B.C. Wildfire crews hung back, and let winter strangle the fire.

The smoke from the fire, however, wreaked havoc on the Okanagan tourist season. Wineries and tourist destinations reported drops in revenue across the Valley.

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